Skylar Astin and Anna Kendrick in 'Pitch Perfect 2'
Image: Richard Cartwright / Universal Pictures

Skylar Astin and Anna Kendrick in 'Pitch Perfect 2'

When you've made a movie like Pitch Perfect, all you really have to do to make a hit sequel is just follow the same formula, hit the same notes—you know, basically just turn the beat around.


Pitch Perfect 2 certainly pulls that off. It has all the a capella numbers, transgressive humor, and quiet self-awareness of its own absurdity that it needs to be just as fun as the first. I walked out and checked my watch, and was startled to discover it was almost two hours long. It's like a pure Red Bull shot in the arm, and that's all most viewers will want.

It was almost inevitable, though, that the sequel couldn't match its original, and this too experiences a bit of sophomore slump—largely because the plot is just all over the place. Pitch Perfect had the same skeleton as any of its music/dance predecessors, especially Bring It On: performing arts troupe of some kind is on the verge of ruin, newcomer (who is inevitably “alternative”) shows up, reluctantly joins for whatever reason, captures the heart of some sweet guy by accident, leads the group to triumph, and does all this while learning some kind of valuable lesson about how vapid girls aren't as vapid as they seem. Also, did I mention the singing and dancing?

I in fact love this genre, and have definitely seen Bring It On and Center Stage more than any other films on the planet. They provide the DNA for shows like Glee and Smash and even Empire and Mozart in the Jungle which, though they aren't outstanding TV, give us tons of wonderful cover songs to bop to on Spotify. More importantly, they continue to suggest, subversively, that the arts provide the world with way more than diversion—they give meaning to life and help us imagine the world anew. (Also, I watched Pitch Perfect for the first time last week in preparation for this review and I have been walking around singing "Don't You (Forget About Me)" all week.)

In Pitch Perfect 2, the whole crew is back, including Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin (not nearly enough), Ben Platt (a lot more), and the indefatigable Rebel Wilson. It also has Hailee Steinfeld (the girl from True Grit, who apparently can sing!) as Emily, a newcomer legacy Bella—her mom was a Bella, too. She's great as an eager, sweet, level-headed first-year with a lot of creative talent.

The movie also features great bit parts and cameos—Keegan-Michael Key as Beca's recording studio boss, David Cross as an aca-obsessed host for a large-scale riff-off, Snoop Dogg as himself, the Obamas as themselves, and a half dozen other randos. (This riff-off rivals that Anchorman scene of fighting news teams in the back alleyway for sheer big-reveal joy.)

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Presumably because of the large volume of epic numbers, including ones staged by a rival German aca-supergroup, the plot clunks along a bit too much. Following the pattern of the first film, the Bellas experience humiliation while performing for POTUS's birthday when Fat Amy's pants split open and everyone sees everything. (Pitch Perfect has never attempted to register on the family-friendly scale.)

Anna Kendrick and Hailee Steinfeld in 'Pitch Perfect 2'
Image: Richard Cartwright / Universal Pictures

Anna Kendrick and Hailee Steinfeld in 'Pitch Perfect 2'

But they try to regroup, learn some valuable lessons along the way, and eventually pull it together. Beca also works at her internship and confronts, for the first time, the need to actually work hard at something instead of relying on natural talent. Oh, and they graduate from Barden College, having apparently somehow fulfilled course requirements. One must suspend disbelief when one is watching fantasy.

Part of what made the original great is still here: it firmly runs along genre convention lines, but also pokes gentle fun at them. The first film featured characters making jokes about waiting until the end of a movie to judge it, and of course had Elizabeth Banks (who produced both installments and directs the second) and a cluelessly misogynist John Michael Higgins as passive-aggressively bitter, satirically racist aca-nnouncers. They're back in the sequel, along with a great scene in which Beca walks into the Bellas' house to discover a slo-mo pillowfight going on, and she knocks on the fourth wall by chiding them for “fulfilling every male fantasy.”

Pitch Perfect was about trying new things while holding to tradition, and so is this sequel—but this one pushes a bit further, suggesting (gasp) that an a capella group might even try original material, a development that tracks with Beca's own creative development. Pitch Perfect also preached, quietly but clearly, the idea that girls don't need to be saved by guys, but that doesn't mean they can't learn from one another. Pitch Perfect 2 gives us no Beca-Jesse drama at all; they seem to be in a healthy, mutually supportive, functioning relationship (thank you, thank you, thank you writers). Plus there are two adorably sweet romances—actual romances, with wooing and everything—between familiar members of the cast.

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But unfortunately, as the film careens toward its inevitable big-stage finale, it skimps on any story development. On one level, this is reasonable: Kendrick, for instance, is clearly checked out, appearing in the minimal number of scenes. But if Emily is going to be expected to carry the inevitable Pitch Perfect 3, we're left with very little to go on except that she is a songwriter and her mom was a Bella and she seems pretty cool. With Beca, we got a great deal of her motivation; Emily is just very excited to be everywhere.

Judging from audience reaction in my screening, this plot-skimping also means there are places where the racist and sexist humor doesn't play as critique of those who make the jokes, but as just jokes in bad taste. The film tries too hard to ride the line between conventional and subversive, and sometimes winds up on the wrong side of the line. A similar principle applies with some of the jokes about “fat”ness and sexuality; the target of humor is in the eye of the audience, and Pitch Perfect 2 sometimes misses its mark and crosses into bad-taste territory.

Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Alexis Knapp, Kelley Jakle and Shelley Regner in 'Pitch Perfect 2'
Image: Richard Cartwright / Universal Pictures

Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Alexis Knapp, Kelley Jakle and Shelley Regner in 'Pitch Perfect 2'

So, you can't help wishing for more, despite the inevitably 21st-century inversion of an old genre and its sometimes-healthy portrayal of college girls and the people who love them. But Pitch Perfect 2 plays a lot like a cover of Pitch Perfect, and you can only cover a cover so many times before you lose the heart of the original.

Caveat Spectator

As I say above, Pitch Perfect2 is definitely not family-friendly. The film's opening gag involves horror at Rebel Wilson exposing all of her, uh, lady-parts to the President and a big crowd, by accident (though we don't see them on screen). Words for male and female anatomy crop up frequently afterwards. There are a number of racist/sexist jokes that are meant to play at the expense of the announcers, but may miss on some ears. It's suggested that characters have/have had sex, but no sign of it on screen. One character is a lesbian, a point that comes up repeatedly; Beca talks about being sexually confused by one of the members of the German troupe. College students drink at a party; inevitably some are underage. Some girls appear dressed in skimpy clothing. There is foul language of the PG-13 variety. Some of the songs covered are raunchy, because they are from Top 40 radio. (There's at least one where the word that would be bleeped on the radio is essentially bleeped in performance.)

Also, our regular contributor Ken Morefield pointed out over at his blog that there's some ethical problems with a gag about sexual consent, involving Fat Amy, in the trailer. In context, the gag makes more sense, but it's worth noting that the film's marketing team missed the troubling implications.

Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She tweets @alissamarie.

Pitch Perfect 2
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(10 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For innuendo and language.)
Directed By
Elizabeth Banks
Run Time
1 hour 55 minutes
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld
Theatre Release
May 15, 2015 by Universal Pictures
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